Introduced as the staunchest ally and advocate of NYSUT and public schools in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer brought delegates to their feet with praise and with promises.
"I love teachers," he said several times at the start of his address at the RA's opening session.
A proud product of New York City schools, Schumer, whose wife and daughters also attended public schools, declared, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you are doing for us.
"We know how important teaching is. We know we cannot maintain our place if we don't maintain the best educational system in the world."
Recalling his contentious 1998 Senate race against Sen. Al D'Amato, Schumer said his opponent "thought his way to winning re-election was by beating up on teachers. But we showed him it was wrong. We showed him it was bad politics."
Fifteen years later, Schumer is still defending teachers as he talked about taking a private school parent to task recently who was bashing public schools. "It makes no sense to degrade, to belittle the most important profession in America," Schumer said. "We should make it an exalted profession.
"How about trying a little collaboration for a change?" he asked. "How about working with teachers for a while instead of against them?"
The best way to do that, he said, is to financially support education. Schumer pledged his support for increased federal aid and programs that range from pre-kindergarten to career and technical education. Schumer also promised to lead efforts for sensible gun control and a bipartisan plan for fair immigration reform. Invoking the December massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he noted the Senate earlier that day had overcome a Republican-led filibuster against tougher gun laws. Noting the broad support for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, he said, "It is about time that we made sure that never happens again."
He could not provide specific details of immigration reform, he said, because the deal is not final, "but we are so close." He concluded by telling delegates, "You are the greatest, you are our hope, you are our future and you are our America."